February 17, 2014
by Hosoda Eri, Okugawa Akane, Matsuura Rina
What is Kompeito?
Kompeito is a traditional Japanese sweet, which was introduced to Japan from Portugal in 1546 Because it was foreign, it became a very popular candy. The origin of the word ‘kompeito’ comes from the Portuguese word ‘confeitos’. Originally, kompeito was eaten in wedding ceremonies in Portugal. Kompeito was given to the Japanese by missionaries, and it is said that the Japanese aristocracy were so surprised at the form and taste. It was an unusually precious candy to them. However, the manufacturing methods of the Kompeito was kept a secret.
Since that time, konpeito has been used in Japan as party favors or commemorative gifts for various occasions by the Imperial Family. In addition, it is has been used for sweets in the tea ceremony room and it for making cakes for children.
Generally, konpeito is said to be pretty, and it comes in various colors, for example: pink, yellow, orange, light blue, purple, white, green, and so on. It’s shape is irregular, and regardless of the color of each candy, the taste is generally the same. Traditionally, kompeito tasted like plain sugar, but nowadays, there are dozens of different flavors, such as fruit and cider to name a few.
These colorful and star like candies are still often made by hand, and the ingredients are simple: sugar, water and food coloring. Kompeito takes approximately 16-20 days to make. There is no special recipe for making kompeito, so manufacturing methods vary greatly. This results in differences in appearance and taste, according to the manufacturer. Also, the kompeito creators cannot make the same taste every year, because the humidity and temperature of the air is always changing. This means that no kompeito maker can manufacture the same kompeito for life.
There is one store in Kyoto that specializes in making and selling kompeito. When making kompeito, they focus specifically on color, form, and flavor. Since the shop is much smaller than a common shop, customers must stand in line outside in wait to get in to purchase their kompeito during busy times. Of course, the taste is very delicious, but the product varies according to the season. However, advance orders are sometimes necessary.
The History of Ryokujuan Shimuzu
Ryokujuan was original founded in 1847. Senkichi Shimizu was the original founder started the business in the Hyakumanben area of Eastern Kyoto. He passed on the business to his son, Shotaro Shimizu, and he in turn passed it on to the third generation, Isamu Shimizu, who began to make cinnamon and tea flavored kompeitou. The fourth generation son, Seiichi Shimizu, began experimenting with the kompeitou making process using various types of materials. Then, in the fifth and current generation, Yasuhiro Shimizu, is making approximately 50 kinds of kompeitou now.
In the old days, they used coal to make a smokeless fire to make the kompeito. For this reason, it took two months to make just one type. Over the years, successive generations built upon the flavor and materials, resulting in an increase in variety of form, luster, and difference in taste. This exemplifies the handmade quality of craftsman ship for which Ryokujuan is famous.
Kompeito Products at Ryokujuan
Ryokujuan Shimizu offers its customers flavors of every kind, such as chocolate, tea, caramel, wine, brandy, nihonshu, perilla leaf, ume, yuzu, ginger, Japanese pepper, and more. Konpeitou at Ryukujuan is different from those of other stores. Especially delicious is their Black Sesame flavor – a taste of natural luxury: not too sweet, yet with hints of the aroma of roasting beans. It costs is 760 yen per bag.
Ryokujuan makes kompeitou in accordance with the change of seasons. For example, cherry blossom flavor is sold in spring when the cherry blossoms bloom. Also, mango and watermelon flavors are sold in the summer, when those fruits are ripe and ready to eat. Furthermore, the taste of Japanese chestnut, black soybean, and sweet potato are sold in the fall, when those vegetables are ready to eat. In this way, Ryokujuan offers many different options to customers who visit their shop. Here are some more examples:
Types of Kompeito at Ryokujuan
- Chocolate (February – Valentines Day)
- Caramel Arare (March – White day)
- Brandy (June – Father’s day)
- Ume Liqueur (July – Bon Festival)
- Sake (November – Year-end Gift)
- Vone Romanevan Rouge (December – Christmas)
- Bean (January – Setsubun)
January: Ume Arare
February: Peach Arare
March: Cherry blossom
October: Black soybean
November: Muscat/Chinese Quince
Ryokujuan also sells cases to store kompeito. If you use one of these cases, you can store kompeito for a very long time. In fact, Ryokujuan has some kompeito from about 50 years ago. The staff says that you cannot eat it, even though its smell and color have not changed.
Have you heard of Kiyomizuyaki? Kiyomizuyaki is a type of traditional pottery in Kyoto, which comes from the Kiyomizu temple area in the Eastern part of the city. Kompeito cases in the Kiyomizuyaki style are also sold at Ryokujuan. To our regret, we were not allow to photograph any. However you can check it on Ryokujuan’s homepage.
One set of cases costs 22,000 yen, and just as a souvenir, so it is rather luxurious and expensive.
So with all of the delicious kompeito and unique storage cases, why don’t you visit Ryokujuan when you come to Kyoto?
Access to Ryokujuan
Ryokujuan is located close to Kyoto University in Sakyo Ward. Business hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Take bus #17 from Kyoto Station. Get off at the Hyakumanben stop. From there it is a 2-minute walk. Alternatively, take bus #206 from the Gion area. Get off at the Hyakumanben stop. From there it is a 5-minute walk.
(Keihan train) get off at the Demachiyanagi stop. From there it is a 10 minutes walk.
Kyoto city sakyo-ku yoshida izumidencho 38-2